The number of seabirds across the planet has declined severely over recent decades (70% in the last 60 years), threatened by pollution, overfishing and climate change. These incredible ocean wanderers are now the most endangered group of birds on Earth.
This project is a scientific expedition to study – and ultimately, protect – tropical seabirds on the very remote Aldabra Atoll in the outer Seychelles, the last pristine island in the western Indian Ocean. The island is a World Heritage Site and home to incredible wildlife. It’s one of the last places where these species can be studied in a natural and untouched environment, but with increasing ocean pollution and global warming, this opportunity may not last. Most animals on Aldabra are poorly studied, but one species in particular, the red-tailed tropicbird Phaeton rubricauda, a magnificent seabird, is in trouble. Monitoring by a local conservation organisation, the Seychelles Islands Foundation, has revealed that red-tailed tropicbirds on Aldabra have been declining continuously for the last ten years, with low breeding success.
Finding out why such decline is happening is critical to inform conservation measures to help protect this species. The decline is likely linked with the availability of prey at sea, but to identify its exact cause it is essential for us to understand the feeding ecology of tropicbirds, which currently we know very little about.
A red-tailed tropicbird on Aldabra (photo: Seychelles Islands Foundation)
I will use state-of-the-art technology to track the feeding movements of tropicbirds to understand where they feed, what they feed on, and how this may relate to their breeding success.
During a 5 week expedition from mid-December 2017 on Aldabra, I will deploy miniature GPS loggers and immersion loggers on 20 red-tailed tropicbirds and 20 white-tailed tropicbirds (their close cousins who are doing well and will be studied for comparison), tracking their detailed movements over several weeks. The combination of GPS and immersion data, once analysed with advanced analytical techniques called “machine learning”, will allow me to know exactly where each bird flies, feeds or rests, and how much effort they spend finding food. I will match this with the growth rate and survival success of their chicks.
This will enable me to:
- identify important feeding areas for the tropicbirds
- improve our knowledge of their feeding ecology
- identify the cause behind the red-tailed tropicbirds’ decline on Aldabra
- train local members to use tracking as a new tool to monitor seabirds in the Seychelles
- provide management recommendations to the Seychelles Island Foundation and the Seychelles government, who desperately need more information on their endemic species to design effective conservation measures.
An immersion logger (middle) and a GPS logger (right) to deploy on a tropicbird. The immersion logger (1g) will be attached to a plastic ring around the bird’s leg, the GPS (17g) will be waterproofed and attached to the bird’s back feathers with thin strips of marine tape; it will naturally fall off within a month if the bird is not recaptured (photo: A. Fayet).
Who AM I ?
I am junior researcher at Queen's College, Oxford. I completed my DPhil in Zoology at St John’s College (Oxford), having previously studied engineering in France. My research aims to understand the life of seabirds at sea, to fill the gaps in our (very limited) knowledge of their ecology and behaviour and ultimately to help protect them.
My work often takes me to remote islands covered with seabirds, usually far from people and terrestrial predators. For this project on Aldabra, I will be collaborating with two other biologists at Queen’s, Dr Lindsay Turnbull, Tutor in Biology and April Burt, DPhil student, who will be based here in Oxford.
Annette holding a puffin on Skomer Island, Wales (photo: A. Fayet)
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
The project is a priority for the Seychelles Islands Foundation and they are meeting transport costs from the main Seychelles Island to Aldabra and covering 75% of the cost of my stay on Aldabra. I am also seeking funding from the British Ecological Society and the Linnean Society.
I need your help to find the final £5,000 to enable this expedition to take place:
- c. £1500 for travel to/from the main Seychelles Island and to stay on Aldabra
- c. £3500 for state-of-the-art miniature loggers to deploy on the birds and trail cameras to monitor nests 24/7 without disturbing the birds until after I leave the island.
I aim to track 40 birds, so essentially each £125 donation will cover the full cost of tracking one bird, which is why there is a special “bird sponsor” reward for gifts of £125.
The expedition has to take place when the birds breed on the island, in December and January, and so time is of the essence. Queen’s College is providing up to £1000 of matched funding, so the first £1000 donated will be doubled!
If I raise the minimum amount (£2500), the expedition will go ahead, and I will be able to track the movements of tropicbirds with GPS loggers to study the feeding areas of the birds (the minimum I would hope to do).
If I raise my target (£5000), I will be able to combine the GPS loggers with immersion loggers and nest-based cameras, allowing me to obtain a much better insight into the feeding ecology and behaviour of the birds, and hopefully to identify the cause between the tropicbirds' decline.
If your gifts exceed my target, then the extra funds will be used towards lab equipment to analyse diet samples, in order to better understand which species tropicbirds feed on, which will help refine our management and fishing policy recommendations, and towards a field laptop to process and analyse data in the field.
During the expedition I will be keeping a blog with regular updates on the work’s progress, which will include a thank you page for all my supporters. You will all be welcome to comment and ask questions on the blog, regardless of whether or how much you donate.
Sponsors will receive some unique rewards, from handwritten postcards sent from the Seychelles to a special drinks reception and even a High Table dinner in The Queen’s College, Oxford. Please see the right hand-side of the page for more information.
Help ME SPREAD THE WORd!
While you can help this project happen by donating, you can also help by letting other people know about it. Please share this project with anyone who you think might be interested or might consider supporting it! Share it on Facebook, Twitter, or simply talk about it to other people!
This research will have an important scientific and conservation impact for tropical seabirds. Please sponsor the project if you can, gifts of any size will make a difference! Thank you very much for your support.
(you can follow me on Twitter: @AnnetteFayet )